The Loneliness.....of the Lone Star

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A sad tale from the most deserted county in the US.

Submitted: April 22, 2009

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Submitted: April 22, 2009



 I.The setting: Loving County, West Texas
Denise Morant was one of the few remaining inhabitants of the country’s most deserted county, Loving, and, like them, Denise was a tough and resilient West Texan. Like them, she had little paint on her truck because, as went the local saying, “We had a tornado once, but the roaring West Texas wind came and ripped it up.” Like the others, she could tell the day of the month by the color of the range grass, and, like them, she often drove the 20 or so miles up the Pecos river just to sleep under the scaly salt cedars which were among the few trees to be found in the lonely and desolate county of her longstanding residence.
The screeching blast of the West Texas wind.
 It also ripped up human frailties and physical weaknesses and left most of the Lovingites as better and stronger stock before, at length, it finally swept over their sagebrush and cactus-ringed graves and left them in the ground to be forgotten forever. 
II. Denise Morant on 7-1-08
Denise Morant, the longtime sheriff of Loving county, was a woman without a gun and whose tiny office in Mentone also served several other municipal purposes, some of which had gone unpracticed for so long that she herself had forgotten what they were. She had also forgotten for at least a decade where the county-issued sidearm was, and that was okay because she never needed it and probably never would. Among the 60 and still diminishing residents of the county, there was very little crime. Usually stolen items were simply discovered to be misplaced, and human aggression was virtually unknown, mostly because the humans were spread so sparsely across the mesquite flatlands that they rarely bumped into one another, and when they did, it was the joy of seeing another human that they celebrated rather than an opportunity to purge aggression.
But the Pax Loving, borne of isolation, almost changed one day, and Denise almost needed to remember which overcharged filing cabinet drawer she had hidden her 45 in. But the key word here was almost. Because although a man was reported dead, no one really cared, and there would be no crime reported. Of course not. Not in Loving County. There was a statistical record somewhere to be upheld.
Denise had known just about everybody’s business in the county for years, but by 2008, within one year of retirement as a Texas peace officer, she had also forgotten most of it. It was the West Texas wind again, she claimed. “Erases the memory.” She had spent the last ten years of her laconic employment asking all the county men how their backs were because every man in the world over twenty has a back problem. And she likewise asked all the women if their skin still itched because in West Texas women’s skin just naturally itches because of the dryness or because of the loneliness, and no one can really say which.
On the day of July first 2008, however, a problem burst through the nearly rotting wooden door of the Mentone municipal building where Denise was drinking a warm beer and listening to the 1963 recording of Randy and the Rainbows singing “Denise, Denise” over and over again. She still thought Randy and the Rainbows were singing to her---at least to the pretty child she had been in 1963, but that was another story altogether.
By the 2000 census, there were only 17 registered households in the county, and it was the female half of one of them that came through the office door huffing that morning.
II. Bessie Landgrave
Bessie Landgrave was approximately the same age as Denise Moran, and for a time, they had attended the same tiny schoolhouse across the county line in Wink, as Loving County has no schools of its own, not then or now. Bessie was plain and late middle aged by this time and married to a former roustabout named Carlon who had just shown up one day back in 1970 and asked her to be his wife. It was well-known in the county that Bessie and Carlon had long ago decided to sleep in separate bedrooms in the decrepit shingle-shack they maintained as a “farmhouse” on FM Private Road 2000 about ten miles outside of Mentone. Carlon was antisocial and taciturn, and folks in the forlorn town rarely saw him, and when they did, he never spoke more than a couple of blunted syllables. It was also assumed that he never spoke much to Bessie either.
On that morning, Bessie was wearing a plaid housedress and was covered with sweat. “Carlon is dead,” she said blankly. Her words begged the rejoinder of “good riddance.”
“You tell Albin?” asked Denise.
“Yep, he’s fixin’ come for the body in an hour. I pulled it out in the dooryard for him. Carlon’s body. He kin pick it up and bury it when he likes. And where he likes too for that matter.”
“Natural or murdered?” inquired Denise sipping her Lone Star nonchalantly.
“Murdered, but you can call it natural if you want. That’ll save yew some trouble. No one can tell. He doesn’t have a mark on him, and I’m betting it wasn’t poison either. Albin doesn’t need to do no auto-topsy either. Just bury him somewhere and get it over with.”
“Not the law,” replied Denise, turning the volume on Randy and Rainbows lower.
“Ah know…well, you know it was Elliver. You can do with him what you want. He ain’t no use to any of us anyhow. Not any at all to Veralee either. She’d be as glad to be rid of him as I am of Carlon.”
“Umhmm…” agreed Denise. “You sure it was Elliver?”
Bessie’s response was to stare at the sheriff for a minute, snicker in an insider way, and walk out the door kicking balls of mid-summer sagebrush as she passed. She drove off in her noisy Chevy truck just the way she came in.
III. Denise Moran remembers her oath.
 Denise Moran remembered the memorized oath she had taken over twenty years earlier about upholding the law. No one gave a rat’s ass about Carlon in Loving County, and it was a shame to spoil the place’s pristine statistical record with a murder no one would care about. Still Denise remembered the oath. What she still forgot was where she’d put her gun.
She cursed the broken refrigerator the county provided her as she took out another Lone Star and clawed it open, knowing full well she was drinking on the job, but then again a medium cold beer in July in Loving wasn’t really considered drinking.
She reckoned she would have to go see Elliver and Veralee, and figured it was better to talk to Veralee first. As with Bessie, she had gone to school in Wink with Veralee. She had been around in 1970 when the second of two mysterious drifters, Elliver, had proposed a quick marriage to the overly-plain Veralee much in the same way and at the same time as Carlon had done with Bessie. Roustabout drifter scum who had come with dirt-stained hands to Loving and remained for as long as anyone could remember. Sullen loners who had no business taking wives they would ignore. Women who were prairie-plain and who would endure the barren dregs of two lifeless unions and bear the stultifying solitude of life's lot with a stoic dignity that was typical of the land itself.
Neither union had produced children either. And both women had complained of their spouse’s inattention and infertility and of a bunch of other in-words until the sparse residents of Loving became too few to listen. Both women had endured years of neglect, but, plain and ungainly as they had been as teenagers, it was a wonder that either had ever found any man whatsoever, let alone two reasonably fit ex-roughnecks without roots. So again, life's lot. Hard to bear at times but better than its vacant alternatives.
IV. Denise talks to Veralee Elliver.
When Denise got to the Elliver patch in her nearly paintless sheriff's car, she had the following terse conversation with Veralee just outside the canopy of the mobile home in which Veralee had dwelled for more than 30 years loosely married to a man named Elliver who had never bothered to tell her or anyone else his first name.
"Did Elliver do it?"
"Guess so. Always said he would someday. Been hintin' at it since the rabbits danced."
"Okay, where is he?"
"Already took the horse down the road to see you."
Veralee was a woman of few words. She seemed happy it was over. Denise was very happy she didn't have to repeat some formulaic stuff about her badge and her oath to the county.
So with no great urgency, she started around back to her office, open Lone Star beside her at the console.
She was happy not to have to hear from Veralee, as she had in the past, that Elliver was cold and that they had not slept together for years. She had heard the same thing from Bessie far too many times too. The two women were not alone in their desolation. Denise, although once pretty, had never taken a man either and bore her solitude with the same resolve that Bessie and Veralee bore theirs.
She blamed it all on the West Texas wind. Robs them of their manhood, she thought. That had always been her explanation, and, like most things relative to the roaring wind, it sufficed. But of course she knew better. In fact, she knew the whole story in a way that Bessie and Veralee never could. 
She passed Elliver on a speckled gelding maundering into town and decided to leave him alone. He would recognize the car. She knew him, and he knew her and he was coming to confess to a murder. Why bother him on the road? Let him take his time getting in. She could have another beer and listen to one more blast of Randy and Rainbows singing to the girl she had once been in 1963. Randy and the Rainbows. Those were better days indeed.
V. Elliver arrives in Mentone
Elliver, still bent forward and dusty from his horseback ride on FM 302, ambled into the sheriff's office wearing a somewhat tight pair of faded Wranglers, yellow-brown snakeskin boots and a wide brimmed hat with a twisted leather band. He made the perfect "cowboy," and his ensemble seemed to smack of the local stereotype.
Denise Morant favored him with a brief glance and began: "Feeling rather Texas today, aren't we?" She smiled at her own comment and took another swig of lukewarm Lone Star. "It took you long enough, but you finally got the costume right."
Elliver pushed back his hat and grinned blankly. Then he started to quietly sing mostly out of tune and under his breath in a hushed voice.
"Denise, Denise, I'm so in love with you…Denise, Denise dooby-doo, dooby-doo." A worse than bad imitation of Randy and Rainbows it became.
The late afternoon was starting to cast brazen shadows, and the wind was lifting over from the flatlands. By nightfall it would be howling in its murderous treachery. Denise and Elliver nodded at one another as if to acknowledge a lonely but tacit secret about the wind. The West Texas wind concealed many secrets, and theirs was one big one.
"You killed Carlon?" asked Denise abstractly with one ear still cocked toward the western approach of the wind. Her worn office chair creaked with the burden of the years she had put on it.
"You bet your two-steps, little blue-bonnet. He got what was comin' to all swaggers and braggers."
"Jesus, you still have it wrong.  You'll never learn, so don't bother. I was younger than you. It made it easier."
Elliver made no reaction to the comment but tossed a folded slip of paper across the deeply scored oak desk to Denise. "A present," he said. "You always wanted it."
Nonchalantly Denise examined the smudged paper in a single glance, refolded it and then placed it in her shirt pocket. "Thanks," she grumbled. "Always wondered about that. Out off 302, eh?"
"Buried pretty deep. That is what is was designed to do." By this time all traces of his ersatz West Texas twang were totally missing and replaced by a flat almost metallic monotone.
"Let it stay buried," sighed Denise. "Twenty years ago I would have cared, but now I'm too old. Let the wind remove all the traces---and it will, you know if it hasn't by now. You know you gotta go to jail, or whatever."
Elliver stood up and stared at the pale blue sky through the accumulated grime of the office window.
"It's gonna be whatever," he mumbled mostly to himself. "Suppose you always knew that…"
"Sure did," replied Denise. "Why did you do it? Mind telling me?"
Elliver spat in a kind of West Texas manner into a wastebasket. Over the years of his residence, he had also learned to chew snuff, as well ask make mechanical references to swaggers, braggers and blue-bonnets.
"The last whatever of all the whatevers," he began but stopped himself cold and swung back to staring at the sky.
VII. Conclusion: Elliver's monologue
"Not a goddamn star visible in the sky right now," Elliver began, "and if there were, who---even after all these years would know the hell what it meant? Maybe Carlon, maybe not. If he did, he never said. He never as much as learned their names for the constellations because he knew other ones, other road maps... And hell, that wasn't my job. Carlon was the navigator, and he done messed it up and did it on purpose because he figgered he'd escape all his problems back home and get a new start here and had to drag the rest of us down with him.
You were too young to remember, and, shit, you have even forgotten the language. Guess I have about too, and Carlon would never speak it either. We had names for all the stars and their patterns on his charts, but only he knew how to use them. We were a commercial craft, and they only gave us one navigator, and that navigator didn't care much about the rest of us. He survived the crash like you did, but, shit, with or without him we didn't even know where we came from or where we were going to.
Wasn't long after the crash, which was Carlon's doing, that you got back here with us, and someone noticed you were pretty and started all that Denise, Denise crap with you and filled your head with nonsense and drove every thought of our homeworld away. And you've been the same ever since. You were just a kid on what was supposed to be a fun, routine trip. Approved by the council because I begged and pleaded for you so's you could see a little of the universe and then go home to your mother happy and having seen a few sights. And then the crash, and then Denise, Denise--dooby doo. The locals loved you and gave you a home and a name. Never did like the sound of that name myself. Not any more than I liked Elliver or Carlon…and whatever that stupid last name he chose for himself was.
No, he needed to die, and I swore I would do it all these years. After what he did to us...bringing us here to die. I was educated, what they call here a chaplain. I was there to console if needed. I never had the guts until just now. Came with the education and all. Our education and philosophy make you weak. My excuse...
 The council had strict rules: Destroy the craft, let it bury itself in the earth, and part ways for a while, if not forever. Wear your local clothes we gave you and blend in. None of us went very far. Only you, Carlon and I survived. Never forget that there are bodies in the buried clamshell-coracle that you always wanted to dig up and see. Bodies of the other crewmen that Carlon killed for his own ambitions. No, I needed to do it. There we were among these creatures. None of us could really find a way to mate or have children. Our parts just didn't really match. We looked like them on the outside, and we could fake their language, but underneath and in private, well, nothing ever fit together or meshed. Different species. Veralee knows that and so does Bessie. We never fooled them. When they complained about no sex, they meant it. We both tried. You tried…."
Denise broke in suddenly "I knew better… I never tried."
"So then you never had a man, no one, and no children either, just your loneliness. The dead ones and I had wives…you wouldn't totally understand, I guess. We had a home, one that you forgot.Carlon had no one back home. Just his charts and the stars and the trade council that had us skimming around here when his little planned accident happened. 1962 by the reckoning of time here. 46 of their planetary orbits, 16,790 give or take of their day rotations. You better believe that I have counted them more than once. That's a long time to be secluded and worthless, lost, deprived of homeland, spouses and language. That's a long time to eat this West Texas dust and hope that just maybe they might have made an exception to the rules and come to pull us back, as we both knew they never would.
And Carlon, with all his big plans for dominating these creatures here, didn't do anymore with his life than I did with mine. His dreams of glory never came to anything. He was a good navigator, but he didn't know any more of the technology than I did. Neither of us were scientists. There were no scientists on our standard commercial missions. Just a navigator, two pilots and a chaplain trained in the psychology of our race to comfort others during the hours of seclusion in the carapace as it sliced through the endless black that only made sense to the likes of Carlon. 
No, his scheme was selfish and it never helped him become one bit more important than these local cow-swaggers hanging out in the Mentone trading post waiting to see a meteor fall or whatever they do.
He was wrong and he needed to die.
And now it's my turn. I can make it fast like I did with Carlon. I remember that much about our anatomy. It won't hurt either.
You can go on being Denise, Denise and get your cop's retirement, but I've had enough, and you won't see me anymore after I leave, so your county can still have its clean reputation and you can remain its sheriff for a while and go with it into those record books as being the sheriff of the most deserted and crime-free place in the nation, maybe the world. But I'm going where the carapace is, where the dead ones are----underground. Under the mesquite brush and sand."
By this time Denise had started to cry softly. Almost mechanically she flipped on the CD player again. Randy and Rainbows hadn't gone anywhere. "Denise, Denise...doobie-doo, I'm so in love with you…"
Looking very cowboy, Elliver stroked her cheek and with one quick, furtive glance walked out the office door past the blowing tumbleweeds into the harsh glare of the West Texas afternoon sun. Denise did not try to stop him.
She thought of her own dry and long years of loneliness in Loving County, no different than comfortless women like Bessie and Veralee, and knew, as she always did, just how much worse things had been for her father.
Devon PitlorAugust 2008

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